The Payson School Board continues to struggle with the consequences of the state legislature’s abandonment of the public school system. State revenues have risen sharply with a billion-dollar reserve, but despite a heartening rise in enrollment, Payson Schools must get by on a 2 percent increase in operating funds and no money for a long list of capital needs — including school buses and vans with 200,000 miles on the odometer.
The school board this week struggled with the resulting difficult choices. Board members appear resigned to spending the bulk of the money that came from the sale of Frontier Elementary School on a host of niggling repairs — including lots of leaky roofs.
The state has forced this consumption of the budgetary seed corn so urgently needed for next year’s planting by refusing to provide money for the growing capital needs of schools statewide. The Arizona Supreme Court declared the system dependent on local property taxes unconstitutional, since rich districts could afford far more expensive buildings and facilities than property-tax-poor districts like Payson. So the Legislature set up a statewide system in the form of the School Facilities Board, but in the past three years has essentially cut off funding.
Now, the Legislature seems content to not only let Arizona sink to dead last in per-student funding — but to let our schools fall apart. In the meantime, they’re falling all over themselves finding new ways to divert public money to private schools.
Meanwhile, the poor school board must choose between bad and worse: Spend the money needed to relieve crowding at Payson Elementary School — or let already overdue repairs become maintenance emergencies.
Fortunately, the small but heartening rise in enrollment after three years of decline has given the district a welcome breather from the relentless cuts of the past three years. And we’re happy about that.
But it’s kind of like a child who’s been both beaten and starved, feeling a surge of relief when the beatings stop.